East County Water Control District Manager David Lindsay today said the water control district, in cooperation with the Lee County Sheriff's Office and several property owners are going to get tough and stop trespassing, dumping, and partying on its lands and the lots of others that are unimproved in Lehigh.
Lindsay said the district commissioners, himself and others have been discussing what to do about these serious problems over the last few months. The district has got to stop trespassing, littering and property destruction," he said.
"And while these areas are environmentally sensitive and crucial to our water management system, a special effort will be aimed at the district-owned Halfway Pond (Mirror Lakes) and the privately owned Savanna Lakes area, which together form an area that is roughly bounded by Milwaukee Boulevard on the north, SR82 on the south, Homestead Road on the east and Grant Boulevard on the west. This has become a popular destination, known as the "82 Mudhole," among ATV and muddling clubs.
David Lindsay shows a large map of an area in Lehigh that has been nearly ruined by ATMs and monster-wheeled vehicles. People have also dumped all types of trash including appliances in the remote area.
Lindsay said the illegal use of these lands is destroying the environmental aspects and devastating ECWCD owned lands.
"We've got to stop it, it is against the law and we mean to make sure with the help of law enforcement, that we are able to get violators off our lands and the lands of nearby owners," Lindsay told The Citizen.
Some of the land in the area is owned by developers and those plots are being completely destroyed through the illegal use of ATVs and Jeeps and other vehicles, too, he said. The dumping of almost any item one can imagine and weekend partying that has gone on in this isolated area of Lehigh Acres has got to stop, Lindsay said.
According to a statement put out by the ECWCD, Florida Statute 298.66 provides for the prosecution of individuals causing damage to infrastructure while Florida Statute 375.314 provides for penalties and prosecution for the destruction of natural resources.
"And that is what is happening. Our properties that we maintain are being destroyed. Young people with ATVs, jeeps and monster-wheeled trucks are and have been using our lands for a period of time and they are destroying what is there. In addition, people are dumping tires, all types of debris, appliances and more. We have cleaned out tons of trash that people are taking out there and it's got to stop," Lindsay said.
Lindsay said signs have been put up; cameras has been hidden in trees to find out the identities of the people who are destroying the lands. He said the violators are tearing down the signs, destroying the cameras and leaving the lands in a deplorable manner. He said ATVs are destroying the natural landscape and now as the rainy season is approaching, the area will turn to mud and big wheeled trucks use the area play to play mud games, commonly called "muddling."
The place has become so popular for these violators that many of the activities have even been posted on YouTube on the Internet, therefore causing social media to advertise the place.
"People are coming here from all around, outside of the county, almost everywhere to illegally use our lands and those of the nearby developers. It has got to stop," Lindsay said.
He said the trespassing, littering and property destruction, mainly those which are environmentally sensitive land crucial to local water management systems is a real problem and now is the time to bring law enforcement in and others to stop the illegal activities.
"The Sheriff's Office has told me that deputies will be monitoring the area at different times and often. Weekends seem to be the favorite time for these illegal activities. We find beer bottles and all types of debris left from the people who are tearing up our land," he said.
While the concentration now is being focused at the area described, the East County Water Control District, is also planning more enforcement on people who are found trespassing on all district lands. That means the illegal use of recreational vehicles like ATVs and sports utility vehicles that are being illegally used on canal right-of-ways and other lands throughout Lehigh Acres.
Lindsay said developers who owns lands adjacent to ECWCD parcels which are also being destroyed, have agreed to pay for expensive metal barbed wire fencing and official signs posted along Milwaukee Blvd. The employees at the water control district are putting up the fence and the posted signs to warn people to stay off the lands or face heavy penalties.
The fencing is not cheap. The developers are providing fencing and signs for 1.25 miles along Milwaukee Blvd.
He said the water control district will soon start digging a deep draining ditch with a high berm on the south side of the property to prevent access by people who have no right to be there, "unauthorized individuals," as the way Lindsay put it.
"You would be surprised about how much junk and litter our agency has picked up in that area. Over the last year, ECWCD, the Sheriff's Office, Lehigh Acres Community Initiative, developers and community volunteers have hosted clean-up efforts in the Halfway Pond (Mirror Lakes) area removing some 30,000 pounds of trash, garbage, including tires, sofas and appliances.
He noted there are places in the county where people can take their trash, rather than dumping it on others' land.
Lee County Solid Waste provides a complete list of the necessary disposal information on their website at: www3.leegov.com/solidwaste/ or contact them on the phone at 239-533-8000. He also said in a published statement that horticultural waste can be picked up curbside if bagged or bundled in units under 509 pounds. You can contact Lee County Solid Waste for disposal criteria, he said.
And for those who don't know what to do with appliances such as a refrigerator, washer and dyers, heater, stoves, and dishwashers, Lindsay said contact Waste Management at 239-334-4115. Large furniture items, TVs, computers, microwaves can be left curbside. They will be tagged and picked up, Lindsay said. The Household Chemical Waste Facility Topaz on Metro Parkway accepts ammunition, antifreeze, autos, boats, and motorcycles, batteries, paint cans partially emptied, propane tanks, cell phones, both florescent and compact florescent bulbs and motor oils.
In the dry season violators with their four-wheeled ATVs can be spotted in this remote area racing up and down sandy tracks, effectively destroying the land and the vegetation.
And now with the rainy season approaching, violators with large vehicles like to create mud holes, and drive their vehicles up and down and through the water and thick mud, again destroying the natural resources on the land.
Lindsay noted that the district must take strong enforcement actions to reduce the negative environmental impacts for the good of the community and the integrity of its water system, and ultimately for the taxpayers.
ECWCD is a water control district that maintains 311 miles of canals, 20 lakes, 1,298 preserve acres, several parks and a variety of infrastructure such as 70 culvert crossings, 22 bridges, and 66 water control structures within 70,000 acres of land. It is not associated with FGCU, which provides water and sewer to some parts of Lehigh Acres.
Without the work of the district, Lehigh could experience dangerous flooding during heavy rains in the summer. Its work over the years has provided Lehigh with movement of water so lawns and streets are not covered with heavy rains and downpours.
He also noted there are places for ATV enthusiasts to attend and pay a small admission fee.
One is the Lazy Springs ATV Park located at 7350 SR82, just minutes away from the Halfway Pond and Mirror Lakes area.
The 550 acres at Halfway Pond is crucial to recharging aquifers and continuing water storage efforts in Lehigh Acres, Lindsay said.
"It's crucial that we take these enforcement actions on behalf of the taxpayers of Lehigh Acres," Lindsay said.